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All Lives Cannot Matter If Black Lives Don’t


I know that it seems incredibly obvious to you that “all lives matter” is an uncontroversial, indisputable statement of truth that should obviously antecede a narrower statement like Black Lives Matter.

It is and it should.

Unfortunately we do not live in the world as it should be.

We live in a world where some lives are manifestly undervalued in relation to others lives.

We live in a world where black lives have been historically, perpetually, systematically, unfathomably, irredeemably disadvantaged in relation to white lives.

We live in a world where even those African Americans who have made great strides against all odds have no expectation whatsoever that they will be treated any differently from the most dangerous criminals of any color.

The realities of shifting demographics, advancing technology and political pandemonium have precipitated a long overdue Come to Jesus moment regarding our failure to rehabilitate the race of people we methodologically destroyed in service of building the wealthiest society on the face of the earth.

I know you don’t see any of this, that you think whatever disparity exists is the result of life choices and character traits—and I understand why you think that.

You and I were raised to think it by people who were raised to think it by people who were raised to be indifferent to it by people who were raised to feel antipathy about its rectification by people who were raised to be virulently opposed to its rectification by people who were raised to firmly believe that black people were property to be bought and sold.

Just as African Americans were raised to live in fear as second-class citizens by people who were raised to live in fear as second-class citizens by people who were raised without the right to vote or drink from the same water fountains by people who were raised in redlined American ghettos as barely-free men and women by people who were raised to live in fear of lynching by people who were raised as the property that could be bought and sold.

However poor your daddy, your grandmammy, or your great granddaddy were, however hard they worked to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, however legitimately you think you’ve earned whatever you have or don’t have in your life…add up the all of that energy, determination, and resourcefulness and multiply it by several orders of magnitude and you might begin to get an inkling of a hint of the faintest sense of the immensity of the forces that were working against the mammies, granddaddies, and great grandmammies of your African American contemporaries.

The wind has always been at our forebears’ backs; a tsunami has always been crashing toward and against and on top of the people we brought here in chains and their descendants.

And the DNA of every facet of American life remains structurally contaminated by that history.

Yes, all lives should matter, but merely saying those words as a defense against the accusation that we don’t live by them is no defense at all.

It’s like saying “helium balloons of all colors fly” when, in fact, you know damn well that someone has tied the black balloons to bricks, popped them, and then burned and stomped on the remaining shreds.

Insisting upon the preeminence of the incontrovertible truth of the statement “all lives matter,” may feel good and righteous, but it makes you look very fucking stubborn and tone-deaf and ahistorical.

It makes you part of the problem.

Black Lives Matter is a thing because for too long our collective words and silences and actions and inactions have created the distinct impression that they do not.

Black Lives Matter is the oxidization on the can of communal existence that our parents and grandparents and great grandparents kicked down the road to us by failing to make amends for the actions of their parents and grandparents and great grandparents.

Black Lives Matter is the penance we must pay if we want a world for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren that is not engulfed in internecine warfare.

Black Lives Matter is not an assertion that black lives matter more than other lives; it is a mantra that we must internalize until we know it and live it—until we can say with a straight face and a clear conscience that all lives matter.

Published in Race


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